It was almost as if someone had torn open a dozen goose down pillows and turned on an industrial-size fan right in my face. Thick, wet, half-dollar-sized snow flakes pelted my face, clouded my vision and slipped into the opening of my hood with the help of a near horizontal wind.
Despite the weather, I knew good things could happen on an evening like that. And as I scraped small icicles from my eyelids, a dark shape materialized out of the curtains of snow that continued to fall across the landscape. As soon as my binoculars hit my eyes, I could tell it was a buck…and a good one to boot.
Finally, after hundreds of hours on stand, that was my moment. My chance. My opportunity.
I raced to turn my camera on, pulled the scope covers off my gun, and brought the muzzleloader up to my shoulder. Having not been able to find my rangefinder that day, I guessed the buck to be within range and immediately began searching for the tall eight pointer in my scope.
As soon as his chest filled my sights, my finger squeezed the trigger and smoke erupted into the icy, cold air.
The cloud of black eventually cleared, and I couldn’t believe what I saw before me. The buck was still standing right there, untouched. I had missed. My chance was blown. My opportunity lost. My hopes of bagging a mature Ohio buck crumbled around me, and I cursed my misfortune.
Every year, thousands of other hunters experience the same disappointment. For different reasons, the final moments of their hunts turn into a story of “the one that got away.” But too often when we miss a shot, we move on without ever really knowing what happened…or how to fix it.
This, in my opinion, is an even bigger mistake than missing in the first place. As a wise man once said, “the only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
To ensure you never make the mistake of repeating your shooting errors, follow these five steps to properly recover from a missed shot.
Reflect on the Conditions
The first step is reflection. Put yourself back into that hunt and examine everything that happened leading up to the shot. It’s important to consider what conditions impacted your shot.
How was the wind that day? The weather? What did you do when you saw the buck? Did you rush? Did you take too much time? When the moment of truth came, did you flinch? Did you punch the trigger? Did you pull the shot?
Dig for as many of the details as you can in the recesses of your brain, and take notes. The more you can remember, the more clear the mistakes will be.
In my situation, I remembered racing to get my gun as the buck approached. I struggled to clear snow out of my scope, and I fumbled with my video camera as I tried to find the deer in the viewfinder. It was a hurried mess, and I realize it now. That’s never a winning formula for a well-placed shot.
Identify Your Mistakes
To learn from your mistakes, you must fully understand what they were. After reflecting and remembering everything you can about the hunt, sift through the details and pinpoint the errors you made along the way. Anything you can remember that wasn’t quite right should be written down.
Take the time to actually get a piece of paper and a pen and write these out. In today’s world of computers, the simple but uncommon act of physically writing can make a difference. The more concrete your list of mistakes, the easier it is to fix what went wrong.
Big mistakes and small, get them all out there. As painful as it might be to acknowledge your mistakes, the act of attacking each one with an improvement plan will make up for it.
When making my list of mistakes, I used a good bit of ink. In retrospect, I realized I had misjudged the distance of the buck. And I very clearly rushed the shot. On top of that, I hadn’t ever shot that particular gun (which was new to me) at that far of a distance before. I assumed I would be OK, but you know what they say about assumptions.
Research Ways To Improve
Once your list of mistakes is there in front of you, it’s time to think through a plan of action for improvement. For some of your mistakes, the solution may be simple. Maybe you rushed the shot. In that case you need to practice shooting with a calm, purposeful demeanor. Plan some regular range time to work on a consistent shot process.
Doing the work is much harder than talking about it. Don’t just rely on your own intuition; research different ideas and processes for dealing with your mistakes, and ask other hunters who have handled similar situations. And as always, get out to the range and practice.
For me, I realized rushing the shot had become a reoccurring issue. I did some research and found some great advice on better establishing a shot process that will force me to slow down. If I’d relied on my own “expertise,” I would have missed an opportunity for fixing the errors in my shot process.
Establish Tangible Action Items and Deadlines
Now that you’ve done your research and spoken to other hunters you respect, it’s time to make a plan. Take your list of mistakes and add an action item for each. Think of at least one, tangible and achievable action you can make to eliminate each mistake.
Again, I’d urge you to put pen to paper and really write these out. Too many people realize they made mistakes, and then never actually take any action on them.
I’d also recommend you associate a deadline with each item. Commit to this deadline and real change can happen.
In my case, one example was that I knew I needed to amend the mistake of not testing my gun at longer ranges. So I made a commitment to return home and properly check my gun at longer ranges before I hunted again.
The final and most important step is to take action. Respect yourself—and the animals you hunt—enough to be serious about learning from your mistakes, and follow through.
Hit your deadlines, and if you’re afraid you can’t, share your action list with a friend and ask them to hold you accountable. It’s amazing what a little peer pressure can do.
If you’re serious about learning how to recover from a missed shot, this is a simple yet effective process you can follow. Reflect, identify your mistakes, research solutions, establish action items and then finally, take action.
Mark Kenyon runs Wired To Hunt, one of the top deer hunting resources online, featuring daily deer hunting news, stories and strategies for the whitetail addict.
- One of the biggest mistakes shooters make—whether it's with a gun or a bow—is thinking they can perform well with a live animal in their sights even though they've put in little to no practice at the range. One of the worst things you can do is take a new gun into the field without a working knowledge of how it will perform at various distances and in differing conditions. Read more about improving your shooting skills.